Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Visualizing (Nearly) Four Years of Shopping

I joke often about how, despite my longtime blogging habit and my fascination with the sociological and cultural implications of social media, I'm a total dinosaur when it comes to actually using social media myself, both as a blogger and in my personal capacity. For instance, I still don't "get" Twitter and find it slightly terrifying, despite recently opening a new account (in what's rapidly proving to be a failed experiment because I don't dare do much more than retweet things I think are funny or interesting without adding commentary). Similarly, I've only recently started understanding Pinterest and using it in earnest, including to keep track of my personal style inspiration albums, both Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer, and to make a quick visual representation of my fashion-related shopping since I started tracking it with my monthly budget posts in January 2015. 

As I put together that board, I became curious about whether I could do some further analysis of my shopping "success rate" over the years, unscientific as such an analysis would inevitably be. After all, I view personal style as more art than science, and my own preferences for my closet are driven far more by subjective emotional responses to certain pieces than rational, quantifiable practicality. Note, for instance, my strange preoccupation with sweater blazers, expressed by buying no less than five in the past few months, definitely more than any one person needs (particularly one who already owns as many other cardigans as I do).

In particular, I was curious about whether it's possible to see how good (or not) I've been at this four years and counting process of trying to move towards more conscious and careful shopping and towards practicing certain tenets of "minimalism-ish" with my closet. That is, after all, one of the main topics I've been writing about all this time!

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Before we begin, one quick note: Because I wasn't 100% systematic about how comprehensively I illustrated my purchases over the years (i.e., sometimes I'll just show the blazer when I bought the full suit); whether I included multiple purchases of the same item in one month (i.e. showing one pair of tights instead of copy-pasting the same image a second time when I actually bought two pairs); and whether I included gifts (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't), these images aren't a fully accurate visualization of all new additions to my closet between January 2015 and October 2018. It also doesn't give a sense of the actual state of my closet, because there are still many items in my wardrobe that predated the start of my monthly budget posts. Most of my work wardrobe, for instance, was purchased when I was a summer associate in 2014, generally at Loft or Ann Taylor, and those pieces, particularly the dresses, are mostly still going strong.  

I'm feeling a bit sheepish about my MSPaint-level image editing skills, but this was the best way I could think of to easily visualize which purchases have been successful, and which ones didn't turn out to be such a good idea, despite my best efforts at planning things out and thinking about every purchase for at least a few days, preferably longer, before making it. Here's how I approached the analysis depicted above, and what it all means:

  • Red dots correspond to items I've removed from my closet, or items for which I've made the decision to do so.
    • Burgundy dots are items I've resold, given away, or, in certain limited instances, discarded, usually when the item is ineligible for ThredUp resale and is also something that couldn't be resold on eBay or Poshmark. For example, nobody wants my previously worn H&M winter tights towards the bottom left (they were scratchy and not even that warm). For the H&M rayon jersey summer dresses I bought near the end of my clerkship year, a.k.a. the year of the massive paycut, they were the only items I've ever had that were of such unsatisfactory quality that they lasted less than a year. I'd never previously had any other rayon jersey shrink up so dramatically just from machine-washing in cold water and line-drying!
    • Bright red dots indicate items I now know aren't useful to me, often after using them for some time, though generally not enough to cause significant signs of wear. These have proven to be mistake purchases, and I'm in the process of figuring out what to do with them, whether reselling or giving them away. I only use one such item frequently, the Bloomingdales cashmere pop-top mittens (current version). I should have known the wind would cut right through them, it's an obvious and natural consequence of the design. I should have gotten a good pair of tech gloves instead.
  • Green dots are items that have left my closet due to reasonable wear and tear, or, in some cases, where I was the one at fault if the item wore out quicker than expected. For instance, Wolford tights can normally withstand more than a year of frequent washing and wearing, but I shredded a pair of Wolford Neon 40s by accident. My pearl studs from Amazon hold up well to daily wear, including when I'm in the shower or asleep, but, very rarely, I'll lose one. 
  • Yellow dots indicate items I'm on the fence about. It's generally somewhat likely that I won't be getting much more use from them before I figure out what to do though they're generally all in good enough shape to give away or resell. The reasons for my ambivalence vary considerably, some are more understandable than others:
    • The Everlane Modern Points simply will not be broken in enough to be comfortable enough to walk around outside in, despite my best efforts.
    • Sometimes, I made an error in judgment I should have foreseen, like with the cotton Uniqlo crew-neck cardigans I bought before I realized I loved the long linen-blend cardigans so much more that I would always reach for those first. 
    • Other times, I purchased something for what I reasonably predicted would be a real need, but the need ended up not arising as often as I thought. This happened with the Old Navy ponte blazer because I simply haven't had many days of multiple formal meetings and/or court dates in a row where I feel the need to reach for a "pretend blazer" like that. Nonetheless, I'll likely keep this because there's always a chance the need will end up arising after all. 
    • For a few things, like the Gorjana small bar necklace, my tastes have changed, and for others, the items don't fit me well anymore. 
    • Some of the items are lower-quality than expected, are showing wear and tear much faster than I hoped, and feel like disappointing mistakes for that reason. The Rothy's have, unfortunately, not held up any better than leather ballet flats typically would to my way of walking, which destroys them in three months or less of frequent wear. (I'm actually kind of devastated the Rothy's aren't a near-perfect, reasonably durable work shoe for me, the way they are for some of my colleagues.) 

Please follow the link below for further analysis and some truly copious reflections, including some crunching of the numbers, which are a bit more accurate than just going by the illustrations above. While making the calculations, I went back through my old monthly shopping posts to correct some details, and also updated the numbers to account for November 2018's shopping, which is excluded from the images above.

Now let's break it down. To arrive at the totals below, I first excluded a few categories I don't always document, such as sleepwear, activewear, underthings, and socks (though I included tights) because I generally only buy those things rarely, as actual needs arise, and, well, they're not very interesting to me. I also excluded swimwear and small leather goods because I buy such items rarely, only once each in the case of swimwear and a swim coverup. I also added a few things I don't always document in posts, such as gifts from K, his parents, and my family, as well as the items I received from Grana in 2016.

Here's the breakdown for my total shopping and other additions to my closet for the past nearly four years, from January 2015 through November 2018:

            4 coats
            18 cardigans
            11 sweaters
            26 dresses 
            21 shirts/blouses
            7 tees/tanks
            3 pairs jeans
            2 pairs leggings
            4 pairs pants
            5 skirts
            2 pairs shorts

            6 scarves
            9 bags
            3 hats
            3 pairs gloves
            2 belts
            10 pairs tights
            7 pairs earrings
            8 necklaces
            3 bracelets
            2 watches
Business Formal:
3 suits (blazer + skirt)
2 blazers
3 pairs heels/wedges
            3 pairs boots/booties
            8 pairs flats/loafers
            3 pairs flat slip-on sneakers
            2 pairs sandals

That's definitely a lot! Starting with these totals of actual new acquisitions from the past approximately four years, and taking out most of the "red dot" or "yellow dot" items from each of these categories, i.e. items I wouldn't miss much if I'd decided not to buy them in the first place, I end up with the below approximation of the amount of shopping I "should" have done these past nearly-four years. Note that I chose not to deduct some of the "red dot" or "yellow dot" items. For instance, one "red dot" was a bridesmaid's dress, so it was an unavoidable need, and I was happy to buy it even if I only wore it once before reselling. Another undeducted item was that Old Navy blazer because I'm most likely going to keep it, and the need for it could still arise after all.

Changes to the numbers for each category are indicated in bolded text below:

            4 coats
            14 cardigans (-4)
            6 sweaters (-5)
            18 dresses (-8)
            14 shirts/blouses (-7)
            6 tees/tanks (-1)
            3 pairs jeans
            pair leggings (-1)
            1 pair pants (-3)
            1 skirt (-4)
            1 pair shorts (-1)

            4 scarves (-2)
            9 bags
            hats (-1)
            1 pair gloves (-2)
            0 belts (-2)
            8 pairs tights (-2)
            7 pairs earrings
            5 necklaces (-3)
            3 bracelets
            2 watches
Business Formal:
3 suits (blazer + skirt)
1 blazer (-1)
3 pairs heels/wedges
            3 pairs boots/booties
            pairs flats/loafers (-3)
            3 pairs flat slip-on sneakers
            1 pair sandals (-1)

The overall takeaway may be that I generally haven't had excellent results on my "minimalism-ish" closet journey. I'm definitely much better about knowing my own tastes now than when I started out, particularly in the last year or so, but the year before that was quite unimpressive. If I had to explain why, I'd guess that the pay-cut and fairly extreme commute (around four hours/day) during my clerkship threw off my judgment and decision-making. I had very little extra mental energy for anything, including cleaning the apartment, that year. The pay-cut and sheer horror of how (even if I'd chosen it knowing full well this would happen) the interest that accrued on my student loans far outstripped my monthly payments naturally put some serious constraints on my sense of my shopping budget, even if the actual totals spent weren't all that different (and were, in fact, higher than) from the period I was in biglaw.

Irrational Shopping Mindsets, or Something

To understand that last bit about why a feeling of tightened budget may, paradoxically, cause me to make more unwise-for-me (and ultimately more expensive) shopping decisions, one may need some explanation. As the child of responsible, frugal immigrant parents, one lesson of my childhood was to only shop in the sale section and from places like TJ Maxx. That was simply the way our household shopped, I was taught that this was the way to get good value and good prices. As a teen and young adult, I'd stick to only sale sections and "acceptable" discount retailers, and would only be able to find things that had only slight resemblance to the clothes I actually dreamed of and wanted. Inevitably, the "close enough" items I ended up with would never actually feel anything like the different (and usually more expensive) things I originally had in mind. I'd end up not wanting to wear them because it'd be frustrating, I felt less good and less pretty wearing them because they weren't actually what I wanted in the first place. So I'd never want to reach for what I bought, and would end up shopping again, trying to find something "closer" to what I originally had in mind.

That's something I've had to train myself out of these past four years, since I started trying to be more conscious about my shopping, to buy less in order to focus on the often more expensive, or not so discounted items I'll actually wear and love. (My parents would, by the way, find the KonMari-style decluttering elements of my journey incredibly wasteful, and probably for good reason.) That's what I mean about my irrational tendency to make less smart-for-me shopping decisions whenever I feel more constrained by my budget, even if my actual spending often doesn't change. Somewhat shamefully, back in 2015 (when I was a student living mostly on student loans for most of the year), I spent about as much as I did in 2017 (most of which was during the time of the paycut). My best budget year since I started tracking was 2016, when I was mostly in biglaw, which makes very little sense. What can I say? Budgeting and spending choices aren't always rational.

Best Practices

Also, it's taken me an extraordinarily long time, and rather excessive amounts of trial and error, to figure out what I actually enjoy wearing and will put to good use. I often get tempted by new looks and silhouettes, including those a-line midi skirts from Uniqlo, even though I should know by now that it mostly tends not to work out for me. I'm just not adventurous when it comes to getting out of my style comfort zones! Also, I generally need more than the week or two I typically spend trying to decide whether to return an item to actually figure out if a new silhouette or look will work for me, so I have to be more careful about my decision-making.

This definitely isn't an attempt at figuring out a "perfect" ideal or optimized bare minimum amount of shopping for any given period of time, whether for myself or for anyone else. For myself, there are probably a few categories that could be cut further. Certainly, no one person needs as many cardigans as I own. If I was better about picking more durable flats or loafers, I could do with a bit less in that category, as I personally find shoes rather boring. If I'd started off buying more durable,  comfortable, and higher-quality tights like from Wolford or Falke, I'd have managed these past four years with fewer total pairs.

And Other Thoughts

Looking at the numbers, it's also clear that I have some rather idiosyncratic wardrobe preferences that wouldn't work for everyone: Among other things, I like dresses a lot more than most, and as a result, I wear pants and skirts a lot less often than most people. If one went solely off pants and jeans, I'd seem like the "perfect" minimalist. I only tend to keep one or two pairs of jeans at once, and only currently own two other pairs of pants for outside the house, a pre-January 2015 pair of slim, cropped work pants from Loft (worn here) and my Grana silk pants. I also need far less in the way of tees, leggings, and other casual clothing than just about anyone, given that I don't have real casual Fridays at my business-casual office (business formal required for court or for meetings), so they really are weekend-only items for me.

I found this exercise quite fun, though it took so much time to put together! This may actually inspire me to do a closet inventory post someday, which I'd never had the inclination to do before. I'll need to make some final decisions about the "yellow dot" items before I actually take an inventory, though.

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